Brigham Young University Prelaw Review


women’s inheritance rights, inheritance rights, women’s rights, Africa, customary indigenous law, statutory national law, legal reformation, social change, legal awareness


When indigenous customary law infringes upon women’s rights in patriarchal societies, how can national legal systems ensure maximum justice for women while respecting regional legal and cultural sovereignty? Which entities, if any, hold the responsibility and the jurisdiction to enforce compliance with statutory national law? In exploring these questions, we examine the tension between indigenous customary law and statutory national law on women’s inheritance rights in Botswana, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. We argue that grassroots efforts to induce gender-based societal change must develop in tandem with institutional and legal reformation, as gender-egalitarian sociocultural foundations will best incentivize compliance with national law on women’s inheritance rights. To actualize this ideal, we propose three key tasks to facilitate this process: first, mobilize women to achieve legal awareness; second, secure men as educated allies; and third, reform accessibility to fair courts and legal protection. Using several cases from Botswana, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, we analyze discrepancies between the institution and practice of statutory national law when in conflict with indigenous customary law. We then identify current legal and social reformation initiatives conducted by both state and non-state actors to minimize abuse of women’s inheritance rights. With this background, we propose strategic modifications to existing reformation endeavors designed to empower both women and men to reconstruct the status of women in their societies through legal and nonlegal means.

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